Angels owner sticking by Scioscia

BY Ken Rosenthal • September 21, 2012

To hear the Angels’ Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto tell it, things between them are just fine, the relationship normal for a manager and general manager.

Major-league sources paint quite a different picture of the dynamic between Sciosica, the Angels’ manager since 2000, and Dipoto, the team’s first-year GM.

Owner Arte Moreno told on Saturday that both Sciosia and Dipoto would return next season, even if the Angels fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year.

If that is indeed the case, the strain between the manager and GM, as described by sources, will need to be resolved.

Moreno is dealing with disappointment on two fronts — the possibility that his $159 million team will miss the postseason, and a drop in average home attendance from 39,090 in 2011 to 37,762 in ’12 after a spending spree that included the signing of free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols to help improve the club’s marketing appeal.

By announcing that Scioscia will be back, Moreno evidently decided that 2012 was something of a year of transition; Scioscia had to deal with an ill-fitting roster, an unsettled bullpen and a batting slump by Pujols early in the season, and the team struggled to achieve consistency even after incorporating the game’s most exciting young talent, rookie center fielder Mike Trout.

Dipoto never appeared in jeopardy; Moreno hired him to play a stronger role than the team’s previous GM, Tony Reagins, and Dipoto impressed the owner with his trades for catcher Chris Iannetta, reliever Ernesto Frieri and right-hander Zack Greinke, sources say.

The best solution, some within the Angels believed, was for Scioscia to leave for another club, even though he has been the team’s manager since 2000 and is under contract through 2018. That way, the Angels could have avoided a messy parting with their manager, and Scioscia’s next team could have offset his remaining salary.

Scioscia, 53, signed a 10-year, $50 million contract on Jan. 5, 2009, and his deal includes $6 million salaries in each of the final three years, according to a source with knowledge of the details.

If Scioscia had been removed, the Angels could have hired a manager with whom Dipoto is more compatible — perhaps Terry Francona, who was the Red Sox’s manager when Dipoto was a scout for Boston’s World Series championship team in 2004.

The communication between Scioscia and Dipoto is strained, and their relationship has teetered throughout the season and neared a breaking point on more than one occasion, according to sources.

Scioscia, sources say, briefly considered stepping down after Dipoto dismissed Mickey Hatcher — Scioscia’s close friend, former teammate and hitting coach for 12 seasons with the Angels — on May 15.

Sources also say that at one point in August, Scioscia told Dipoto during a contentious meeting that if the GM was not satisfied with his job performance, then he should fire him.

Such heat-of-the-moment emotions might represent nothing more than extreme reactions or hyperbole, subject to interpretation by those who witnessed them or learned of them later.

Scioscia denies that he ever contemplated resigning or challenged Dipoto to fire him. Dipoto, too, denies that Scioscia issued such a challenge, and says that the give-and-take between them is no different than it is between any manager and GM.

“There are things we agree on, things we disagree on — that’s a healthy thing,” Dipoto said. “By and large, I have great respect for what Mike does, the work he puts into it, the success that he has had, the history that he has had.”

Said Scioscia: “You’ve got a manager with strong opinions, a general manager with strong opinions, same as 29 other teams.”

The difference with the Angels is that Dipoto, with the blessing of Moreno, has exerted greater authority than either of his predecessors, Reagins and Bill Stoneman.

Scioscia ran the team’s end-of-the-year meetings in late September under both of those GMs. Dipoto, after getting hired, instituted and led offseason organization meetings, a major shift in the power dynamic, one source says.

The conflict between the two has flared on a number of fronts, sources say:

*The firing of Hatcher. Scioscia said publicly that he respected Dipoto’s decision, but indicated that he disagreed with it. And while Scioscia might not have seriously considered resigning in protest, one friend of the manager’s says that Scioscia is so loyal to his coaches, he has suggested in the past that he would take such action if one of them was dismissed.

*The role of assistant GM Scott Servais. Dipoto hired Servais from the Rangers, and one Angels official says that Servais irritates Scioscia and his staff even more than the GM.

The perception of the staff is that Servais is heavy-handed and interested in assuming an on-field role.

Servais did not respond to a request for an interview.

*The transition of catcher Chris Iannetta. Scioscia, a former catcher, is demanding of his catchers, and Iannetta — acquired by Dipoto from the Rockies last December — has at times struggled to adjust to a new staff and new league.

The Angels have held at least two meetings to help Iannetta smooth things over with pitchers, one of which was attended by Dipoto. Iannetta has hit well, but required right wrist surgery that sidelined him from May 8 to July 28, disrupting his time with the pitching staff.

“Obviously, there was a learning process in the beginning, the first few weeks of spring training,” Iannetta says. “But after that, it was more of just getting into the flow of the season, just like anyone else would. It was an adjustment period, for lack of a better term, the everyday grind of baseball.”

*Statistical analysis. The Angels, under Reagins, were not a team that delved heavily into advanced metrics. That has changed under Dipoto, and Scioscia has been resistant to using the data prepared by the GM and his staff.

Speaking generally of his relationship with Scioscia, Dipoto said, “Mike and I have gone through what anyone else who never had the opportunity to work together have gone through. He’s getting to understand my personality, philosophy, way of doing things.

“I’m a very big fan of, ‘Everyone has the information they need, let ‘em do their jobs.’ I’m not a day-to-day micro-manager. I’m not a, ‘What are we doing with this lineup, that lineup?’

“The manager manages the team. That’s Mike’s job. I have certain responsibilities every day that I have to take care of. … Who Mike wants to throw in the seventh inning, who he wants to hit fifth in the lineup, that’s Mike’s call. It needs to be. That doesn’t just go for Mike. That goes for anybody.”

The Angels’ manager, though, is not “anybody.”

It’s Mike Scioscia.